James Webb Space Telescope shows where stars are born (photos)

Tarantula Nebula
Tarantula Nebula

It was the $10bn gift to the world. A machine that would show us our place in the Universe.

The James Webb Space Telescope was launched exactly a year ago, on Christmas Day. It had taken three decades to plan, design and build.

Many wondered whether this successor to the famed Hubble Space Telescope could actually live up to expectations.

We had to wait a few months while its epic 6.5m primary mirror was unpacked and focused, and its other systems tested and calibrated.

But, yes, it was everything they said it would be. The American, European and Canadian space agencies held a party in July to release the first colour images. What you see on this page are some of the pictures subsequently published that you may have missed.

James Webb is opening up the infrared Universe

The first thing you have to remember about James Webb is that it is an infrared telescope. It sees the sky at wavelengths of light that are beyond what our eyes are able to discern.

L-R: Image using visible light with Hubble. Image using infrared with James Webb
L-R: Image using visible light with Hubble. Image using infrared with James Webb

Astronomers use its different cameras to explore regions of the cosmos, such as these great towers of gas and dust. The Pillars were a favourite target of Hubble. It would take you several years travelling at the speed of light to traverse this entire scene.

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Carina Nebula

Carina Nebula
Carina Nebula

They call this scene the Cosmic Cliffs. It’s the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within another dusty, star-forming nebula, known as Carina.

The cavity has been sculpted by the intense ultraviolet radiation and winds from hot, young stars just out of shot.

From one side of this image to the other is a distance of roughly 15 light years. One light year is equal to about 9.46 trillion km (5.88 trillion miles).

Cartwheel Galaxy

Cartwheel Galaxy
Cartwheel Galaxy

This large galaxy to the right was discovered by the great Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky in the 1940s. Its intricate cartwheel structure is the result of a head-on collision with another galaxy. The diameter is about 145,000 light years.

Planet Neptune

Neptune
Neptune

James Webb doesn’t look into only the deep Universe. It probes objects in our own solar system, too. This jewel is the eighth planet from the Sun: Neptune, seen with its rings. The small white dots that surround it are moons, and so is the big “pointed star” above. That’s Triton, Neptune’s largest satellite. The spikes are an artefact of the way James Webb’s mirror system is constructed.

Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula
Orion Nebula

Orion is one of the most familiar regions of the sky. It’s a star-forming region, or nebula, about 1,350 light years from Earth. Here, Webb pictures a feature called the Orion Bar, which is a wall of dense gas and dust.

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